‘Miruna’ Image Dump

I’m working on a new book cover project for Twisted Spoon— this one is a story called Miruna, A Tale by the Romanian author Bogdan Suceavă. It’s a lovely text that reminds me of the ‘magical realism’ genre in its better moments: a manner of storytelling in which very strange things are made commonplace, and mundane things made strange.

Since I haven’t done one of these visual posts in a while, I thought I’d show some the images that I’ve come across while doing research for this project, along with some totally random finds thrown in just for variety’s sake…

Tricked-out Gypsy Tombstone Fail

We were back in Czech this past week (yep: already) for reasons that are more complex than interesting to relate: basically, I had been under the impression that my proposal for the Jewish Museum identity was due then, so we also made plans to visit my wife’s father in Karlovy Vary, hang out in Prague for a few days, go to a wedding, and for my wife to play a field hockey game in Pilsen. By the time I found out that my Jewish Museum deadline has been extended to the end of the month, we were already locked into going…

Since it wound up being an accidental working vacation of sorts, I decided to use the time available in Prague to go investigate something my wife had brought to my attention: near where we live used to live, there’s a huge cemetery where she sometimes hangs out with one of her mom allies. She’d noticed a section of gravestones belonging to gypsy families that are apparently dazzlingly tricked out. It sounded to me like Prague’s answer to the highly-accessorized cars, low-rider bicycles and – back in the day – horses of the Mission’s chicano community, so naturally I was intrigued. Unfortunately, when I got to the graveyard, I was helpless to find the section she had told me about–- I mean, this place is GIANT. After awhile, I got tired and was afraid to lie down and take a nap in an open grave, so decided to split…

So, all I have to offer you are a few shots of plain old non-gypsy Czech grave sites. I really liked this one for Leopold Batěk:

The impulse to have a statue of yourself on your tombstone is natural enough, I suppose… but I really like the restless spryness of this pose: it looks like the figure is about to impatiently hop up and go down the street to buy some cigarettes. Good stuff.

Then there’s Zděnek Šimek, who was into training bears:

This strikes me as a more upscale version of the kind of knit sweaters that you sometimes see guys wearing with Kawasaki motorcycles or some other choice hobby stitched on them.

Since this post is looking a little skimpy, here’s some totally unrelated bonus entertainment:

Trashy Czech romance novels! Be still my heart. The title of this one translates as ‘The Heartfelt Guy’. This came from the bookshelf of my cousin-in-law, who has a whole raft of these– perhaps the entire ‘Čteny Pro Dívky’ (Books For Girls) series?

Misadventures In Self Publishing

My friend, it turns out, has three or four manuscripts of his own unpublished fiction kicking around. Now, I know this sounds boring… but before you head over to What I Had For Breakfast, consider the following:

  1. One of the manuscripts is titled Vomiting Across America and is based on personal experience
  2. A second is about his misadventures in Prague. Half the action is set in legendary local dive bar The Blind Eye. But the author had the literary wherewithal to create a fictionalized version of this bar called ‘The Other Cheek’. Now, that’s good– you’ve gotta admit.
  3. A third includes accounts of the sexual exploits of a grandmother deranged from senility.

On balance, the only tiresome aspect of my friend’s writing persona is the fact that he maintains the whole predictable reluctanct-to-talk-about-or-share-his-work posture that all my friends who aspire to write fiction invariably pull. When clearly the only goal of this stunt is to entice interest in their writing and general persona while allowing them to appear aloof and above the fray. Yawn. That’s why it was nice to finally meet one guy on my vacation in Poland who would freely talk about the manuscript he had just finished with anyone who was willing to listen. What a relief.

Anyway, my friend sent me the second manuscript discussed above– the one about Prague– which I read and found totally enthralling in trashy, Bukowski-esque way. One thing is that he has a great ear for accents and the way that people speak, which allows you to express more about, say, Czech people and how Czech people really are than I can manage in blog post after post of tedious sociological generalizations. Another thing is that it’s just riotously funny. I mean, c’mon: ‘The Other Cheek’.

This manuscript has also added an enjoyable and enduring physical presence to our household. I received the digital files from my friend and printed out the whole 400 or so pages on my office printer… then, once I was done with it, I discarded the whole spent husk into a pile of scrap paper that we use at home for grocery lists and the like. This has the unintended effect of really livening up mundane household tasks. The other day, I was getting a list of groceries that my wife had written down and turned the sheet over to find the following passage:

Lift it up, full and steaming and… what the fuck?! Jesus! JESUS FUCKING FUCK! The Head! The fucking head. The dead eyes open, the mouth too, in an eternal, silent, scream and there’s soup inside the mouth, there’s a pea and a bit of carrot swimming around in there

(In fact, what’s funny is that when I searched my hard drive right now to find this passage again, I did a search for ‘Jesus fucking fuck’ and the only results that appeared were all four parts of his manuscript).

I honestly think these writings could achieve a certain dubious mass popularity if they were published, and find myself at times struggling to think of a way to facilitate this (the publisher for whom I design the book covers is, I think, a bit too self-respecting).

My friend once sent one of his short stories off to a literary blog that was sponsoring some kind of young writers contest. The story was posted on the blog– it’s about braining somebody to death with a soda can and contains 13 instances of the word ‘fuck’ in a 600 word story. Anyway, my friend recounts that he once went for the second round of a job interview process and was confronted with the actual story– his would-be employer had googled him, found the story, printed out a copy and asked him to explain what it was all about. Safe to say that the Obama administration won’t be tapping him for a position anytime soon.

If Van Morrison is a Jerk, Does That Make "Brown-Eyed Girl" Any Worse?

I recently came upon this interesting interview with Greil Marcus where he talks about his new book on Van Morrison. I’ve always liked but not loved Van Morrison, so I’m not about to run out to buy the book, but I was very interested in how, in the interview, Marcus espoused a form of musical analysis that seems comparable to New Criticism, the old school (mid-20th century) style of literary criticism that they taught at Dan and my high school. In short, it was all about the close reading of texts as self-contained entities, with no regard whatsoever for the biography of the author or, really, any other context. It turned out to be a great way to be introduced to the study of literature, and I’ve always felt that the rigorous training in such close reading has served me well in various other endeavors, including my eventual career as a lawyer.

I no longer believe that such analysis is the end-point for understanding a given work of art, but I’ve puzzled for years over the question of how to determine the meaning of music, which, lyrics aside, is so much more abstract in “form” than any other sort of creative work.

So, anyhow, I was intrigued to see Marcus explaining, somewhat passionately, how he didn’t give a damn what was behind Van Morrison’s classic songs, and whether there was a real “Madame George” or not, and how basically irrelevant such context is to “true” appreciation of the music. I found myself drawn to this approach as a way of helping to explain how a song’s “feel” can be so powerful, even if the words are just “Sweet Thing” over and over again or whatever.

This topic was particularly relevant to Marcus’ work on Van Morrison, I gather, because Van Morrison is this legendary despicable, hateful guy – although to be honest, that doesn’t actually strike me as all that surprising given his music, although I can’t say exactly why.

But then a little bit later in the interview Marcus seems to contradict himself 100% without recognizing it. He talks about this long “dead period” where Morrison failed to produce any decent music, from about 1980 to 1997. And then he analogizes it to a similar dead period for Dylan, which he cites Dylan himself as identifying as stretching from his post-John Wesley Harding recordings (1968) all the way until the early ‘90s:

“Essentially, that entire period — that’s a long time — was worthless, was searching for something that would give him a reason to sing, faking it the whole time. Any Bob Dylan fan would say, ‘Oh, what about Blood on the Tracks or ‘Blind Willie McTell’, that great song he didn’t even release in 1983? I loved Desire, Under the Red Sky. How could you dismiss all that?’ Well, because he knew how he felt singing those songs, making those records.”

Notice the contradiction? Suddenly the “value” of the songs is very much tied up in how the author “felt” while making them – whereas moments before Marcus was espousing this New Critical, context-less analysis of the music. And he even goes on to say that when an audience embraces music that the artist “knows” to be phoney, “it can only breed contempt for the audience. If the people who supposedly care about your work can’t tell the good from the bad, can’t tell the real from the false, why should you have respect for them at all?”

So much for the professed disinterest in where the songs came from. I can’t say that I was really surprised by this turnaround – as much as I always loved Marcus’ ability to capture the “feel” of a song in words, his writings always seemed more about mythologizing the performers than about getting away from them.


Dan adds: I wonder if this New Criticism / Greil Marcus method of analysis can be applied to blogging as well? In particular, I hope it will be invoked to redeem the long “dead period” that I’m anticipating taking place in my own blogging between 2012- 2025.

Legs round-up

Last night, I met with the publisher to show my second round of cover ideas for Bruno Jasienski’s The Legs of Izolda Morgan. After the debacle of the first rejected round of ideas, imagine my relief when the publisher basically said, “I like them all… I can’t decide.” He wound up handing them over to his wife, who— without any hints from me—independently picked the same one that I was leaning towards as her favorite. So, that settled it.

See if you can guess which one was the winner. None of these are presented as ‘finished’– the idea is to go as far as you need to to demonstrate concept and then move on to the next idea– so they’re in various states of haggardness in terms of missing details. The beige background color is meant to be a loose approximation of the rough, uncoated off-white paper we’re talking about printing it on.

Since it’s boring to just number or letter them, I’ll name them after various members of Fleetwood Mac

Stevie Nicks direction:

Peter Green direction:

Bob Welch direction:

Mick Fleetwood direction:

John McVie direction:

Christine McVie direction:

Lindsey Buckingham direction:

And, just for posterity’s sake, here’s the main rejected design from round 1:

While I’m generally OK with not using this direction, what really galls me about its rejection is the fact that the publisher kept getting stuck on its resemblance to this stupid poster for the Barbara Striesand movie Funny Girl:

Damn you, Barbara Streisand.

Anyway, I’m happy with the direction that we wound up picking, and relieved to finally be able to move past the sketch stage. What do you think?

The Girl In The Abstract Bed and other finds

OK, I’ve never blogged the ongoing process of working on a project before and so I have no idea whether it’s interesting, illuminating, unseemly or just dead boring (or some heady concoction of all of the above). In any case, I promise this is the last image dump I’ll do on the Legs of Izolda Morgan project for awhile. If I post on the subject again, it will be to show new designs.

What can I say– I just love book covers, and one of my favorite parts of designing one is having an excuse to trawl around and dig up interesting covers that other people have done (plus a few posters and woodcuts that have slipped in here too).

Image dump: In search of Izolda Morgan's legs

Some memorable images I’ve run across mostly while researching 1930s Futurist and Constructivist book covers for the Bruno Jasienski project I blogged about last week. Some randoms, too.

(Incidentally, the publisher and I met up earlier this week and we agreed to nix the direction I showed in last week’s post. This decision left me with divided feelings– on on the one hand, I liked that direction aesthetically; on the other hand, it really did feel out-of-step with 1930s Futurism, and the incongruity was really bugging me. Anyway: back to the drawing board).

The Legs of Izolda Morgan

I’ve been working on another freelance book cover project for Twisted Spoon Press, this one another collection of writings by Bruno Jasienski. Jasienski was a leader of the Polish Futurism movement who was deported from France on the basis of his ‘catastophist’ novel I Burn Paris (which I also did a cover for, due out in the fall via Twisted Spoon), and wound up eventually perishing in the gulag of the U.S.S.R. after initially receiving a hero’s welcome there on his arrival.

The most celebrated story in this collection is ‘The Legs of Izolda Morgan’, a delirious tale about a worker who steals his girlfriend’s legs after she’s run over by a tram and sliced in two in the opening lines of the story. The worker basically flips out and decides that machines are out to get us, and strikes back by attempting to sabotage the factory he works in. As a characterization of someone whose sanity seems to have been tainted by contact with the machine age, ‘The Legs of Izolda Morgan’ isn’t exactly as sympathetic as you might expect to technology and modernity as you might expect coming from an avowed Futurist. The story is accompanied (and further obfuscated) by a weird little preface, Exposé, that contains lots of odd provocations and baffling statements, such as this passage that I’m thinking about using on the back cover:

I do not claim that the present book should stand as an example of how the contemporary novel ought to be written. But it is most certainly an example of how the novel cannot be written these days (the joke that you wish to make here, dear reader, only confirms your naivité).

Sometimes, Jasienski doesn’t seem so much a committed ideologue as just somebody who likes stirring up controversy and rattling chains, which I suppose puts him in good company with many other practitioners of Futurism, a movement that was basically founded by a brilliant and subversive clown.

Another story in the collection is called ‘The Nose’, which presents a tempting cover design opportunity in that the cover could be divided in two between nose and legs. However, as ‘Legs’ is the most celebrated story, I’ve inevitably come back around to letting this one be the star of the show. The publisher and I discussed using an all typographic cover, which sort of led me in the direction shown here that I’m currently leaning toward:

The idea would be to print this on a rough recycled paper, to get the same feeling as those great Bukowski publications from Black Sparrow Press. Still very much kicking this one around, though — a few things about it don’t entirely sit well with me. Mainly, it doesn’t  look ‘of its time period’ (e.g. 1930s), which is something I’ve made a conscious effort to achieve with my other Twisted Spoon covers. But maybe that’s a welcome change… ?

The Devil's Disciples

One of the best ideas I ever had in my life came to me in high school, moments after some crackpot on the street had handed me one of those Jack T. Chick religious tracks that everyone’s run across at some point. I specifically remember it was one called Dark Dungeons, a stern warning about the devilish evils of role playing games:

Anyway, my epiphany was to write to the address printed on the back and present myself as a high school teacher looking for religious materials to help me save my damned and unruly students. I used my high school’s address to make the teacher ruse more believable, and sat back and waited. A few weeks later, a box containing a motherlode of religious junk appeared, including…

  • a ton of those afteromentioned tracts
  • These great full-size comics called The Crusaders about two musclebound guys, Tim and James, who go around busting satanic plots in small towns and are always kneeling down and praying together on the floors of supermarkets and stuff like this. There’s homoerotic tension oozing out of every page, believe you me.
  • A lenghty hand-written letter (!) questioning the sincerity of my faith (it’s quite likely that my letter wasn’t entirely convincing, given that it was written by a stoned 15 year old).

But the crown jewel of this haul was a 345 page treatise called The Devil’s Disciples, written by one Jeffrey Godwin (one hopes this is a pen name), that purports to “rip to away the curtain of lies, ignorance and misconceptions about modern Rock music” and “show the Satan-worshipping world of Rock in all its sick and deceitful glory”:

In an appendix in the back, we’re informed by Godwin that he used to be a slavishly devoted metalhead before he saw the light and turned to God. The book is quite likely the funniest thing ever written, in large part due to Godwin’s prose style, which veers between wild hyperbole, leering hatred, snide condescension, pathetic gullibility and then — just when you’re thinking that the whole exercise is appallingly pitiful — unexpectedly lucid insight. Some examples…

Writing style:

“From a sneering, hip wiggling hillbilly named Elvis Presley to a blood drinking, bat biting maniac named Ozzy Osbourne, today’s Rock Stars have the full blessing of Satan in the work they do,” Godwin warns. And this is the second sentence in the book! Within the next two pages, rock music is characterized both as a “ravenous leech” and a “huge sprawling parasite”, performed by “male singers wearing heavy mascara and lipstick, fondling themselves while hissing demonic lyrics at a mesmerized audience.”

Frequently, the author gets so carried away condemning the musicians he hates that they come across as evil comic book super-villains. Still in chapter one, he delivers a scathing account of Altamont and the Rolling Stones’ (described in passing as ‘a band of depraved, drug addicted black magicians’) culpability in the disaster: “What were the Stones doing during this pandemonium? They simply continued playing as long as possible, coldly noting the chaos they had brought about, occasionally leering at one another“. [emphasis mine]. What an image!

Tragic Gullibility:

One thing that’s sad about this delightfully enjoyable book is how much the author gets taken for a ride by all the flash-in-the-pan nobody bands that were affecting a cheesy veneer of satanism in order to sell records to suburban teenage boys in the 80s. I mean, I can believe the Rolling Stones were devoted satanists… but PileDriver? Or Keel? Or jokers like Twisted Sister? Not so much.

There are a few not-so-menacing names that make it as far as Godwin’s countdown of Top 10 Most Satanic Bands Ever. Number four, for example, is Motley Crue: “A ragtag gang of foul mouthed and vulgar fornicators who openly brag of their detestable lifestyles, Motley Crue is Satan’s Pied Piper of the 80s, their siren call dragging thousands of fresh souls down the well-worn ruts of the Highway To Hell.” Yeah… in Tommy Lee’s dreams.

All in all, these parts just remind you more than anything else about how goofball mainstream metal mores were in the 80s until Nirvana restored some sense of seriousness.

(Number ten on Godwin’s public enemy list is the totally negligible W.A.S.P.)

Strange moments of lucidity:

Just when you think he’s gone totally off the rails, Godwin comes up with something strangely probable. Consider, for example, his explanation for the shooting of John Lennon: Lennon, in his telling, had dropped out of the Rock-n-Roll lifestyle by the mid-70s and was instead producing records like “Double Fantasy”, an album described as “a record filled with passionate devotion to wife and family”. In Godwin’s telling, Satan is now spurned and sends Mark Chapman after Lennon because the latter has gone off the reservation. In conclusion? “Lennon had outlived his usefulness as the Devil’s slave, and he ceast to exist”. There’s a certain logic to this– certainly, it’s more believable than ‘some random nut read too much JD Salinger and decided that Lennon needed to die.’

And, lastly, the chapter on Punks:

I can’t end this without mentioning the fantastic chapter on Punk rock (which Godwin believes in somehow tied in with England, socialism, and a determination on the part of the dark lord to overthrow capitalism). A few passages:

We remember to well what Punks and their music were like in the Seventies — a screaming, cursing, insane mob of monsters. Let’s take a look at Punk today.

Another simmering, steam-bath night is descending on Los Angeles in the sweltering summer of 1986…. In defoliated, bombed out suburbs like West Hollywood, the Punks, or “street survivors,” as they are also called…

Street survivors?

…. mass on the trashy sidewalks outside their favorite Rock & Roll clubs. California punks come from far and wide to join in Fascist sprees of Nazish violence and blood-letting, a feast of “slam dancing” that leaves many with broken bones, slashed faces and busted heads.

Some sections of Los Angeles have been completely taken over by Punks. Santa Monica Boulevard is a good example. The place is a nightmare in 3D, a living, breathing abomination, a riveting and horrible example of what thirty years of Rock & Roll has mutated and produced in our young people and our culture. If you ever drive through this area, keep your doors locked and your windows up.

Many Punk clubs here resemble fortresses with barred windows, heavy doors with peepholes and walls thick enough to repel any enemy invasion. People stand in the street, threatening passerby and harassing traffic. Others lounge on upturned garbage cans, or squat on the sidewalks, bored, waiting for some “action”.

I could really go on with this forever. But, time to sign off and go find some “action”.